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Caps' Philipp Grubauer playing more, looking sharp

Caps' Philipp Grubauer playing more, looking sharp

With a pair of strong starts in the first seven games, Philipp Grubauer is giving the Capitals every reason to believe he can handle the heavier workload they want him to shoulder this season.

Grubauer registered a spectacular 18-save shutout against the Avalanche on Oct. 18, the first shutout of his NHL career.  

He followed that up Saturday night with a 25-save performance that helped lift the Capitals to a 5-2 victory in Vancouver.

The backup stopped all six shots he faced in the third period, ensuring that Washington remained the NHL's stingiest team in the final frame (just three goals against).

“I thought it was good,” Coach Barry Trotz told reporters in Vancouver, referring to Grubauer’s effort against the Canucks.

“They got some nice rebounds; there were two rebounds goals. But I thought that it was really key that he made the key save at the key moment…He’s been good for us.”    

Entering Sunday’s games, Grubauer owned the league's fifth-best save percentage (.953) and second-best goals against average (1.00).

Just as important, though, Grubauer’s hot start figures to give Trotz the confidence to turn to him more often as the team seeks to better manage Braden Holtby’s workload this season.

Due to the World Cup of Hockey and a bye week for each team, the schedule is compressed and the need to spell the No. 1 goalie is going to be greater. 

Last season, Grubauer started two games of the first 10 games. This season, he’s already started two of the first seven contests.  

After beating the Canucks, Grubauer credited his early success to an earlier-than-usual start this offseason.    

“I didn’t make too many changes,” Grubauer said. “It’s kind of nice to get the win and the shutout. I think what really helped was getting an early start in August with the Olympic qualification [with the German national team] and then participating in the World Cup [with Team Europe]."

“When you have the best shooters in front of you,” he added, “it helps you see the puck. It helped me coming back to Washington.”

Holtby is expected to return to the net Sunday night in Calgary.

Capitals GameTime begins at 9 p.m. on CSN+. Puck drop is at 9:30, also on CSN+.

RELATED: CAPITALS VS. CANUCKS GAMETHREAD

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.